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Seventies, eighties, nineties… we got stuck, at loss for a word to describe the next block of 10 years. In fact, English doesn’t have a word to describe the first two decades of a century. Noughties, to refer to the decade 2000 to 2009, was a coinage which became popular and acceptable.

But now we are stuck again. Before we enter the twenties, what do we call the coming decade from 2010 to 2019?

In fact, English language claims to have a word for every nuance. But there are many instances when we don’t have one single word in that language to avoid elaborate explanation.

There are ‘senior citizens’ who are above 60 and specifically sexagenarians, septuagenarians, octogenarians and nonagenarians. At the other end, there are infants, children, pre-teens, teens and young adults. It’s youth, when we are in our twenties.

In the thirties, mostly all __ with liberal helpings from cosmetics, fashion devices and gizmos __ hang on to the youth tag. But after that it’s a sort of crisis till 60.

A person in the forties and fifties is neither young nor old. As if a testament to the identity crisis, there is no one single word for someone in the forties or fifties, until he is a sexagenarian. Are the ‘naughty forties’ and ‘naughty fifties’ symbolic of the impatience and identity crisis?

Though a dozen is 12 and a score is 20, there is no similar word to describe a block of 30 or 40. A batsman who piles up 100 runs in cricket parlance is a ‘centurion’, but there’s nothing like ‘half-centurion’ or ‘double centurion’.

At the turn of the twentieth century, along with the technological challenge of Y2K, was the linguistic one, until the word ‘noughties’ was coined because of the two noughts (zeroes) in the years.

Now, what shall we call the coming decade? Can we call it ‘tennees’ or ‘tenties’? Deca stands for 10, so, can it be ‘decaties’ or a simpler ‘decties’?

What are your suggestions on what lies between noughties and twenties?

(This article appeared on page 4 of The Times of India, Bangalore, today.)

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Sabarimala is under a thick blanket of security cover, because of the increased threat perception on Babri Masjid demolition anniversary.

No mobile phones allowed, they have to be deposited at counters and tokens obtained. Baggage will be sent through an x-ray scanner. Only the “irumudikettu” (a bag containing coconut, rice etc) can be taken up the 18-steps; not even knives and other iron objects pilgrims carry to break coconut and for food preparation on the hill. There are many other regulations.

Pampa river. Pilgrims have bath here and trek up the hill. The cleanliness of this area has improved a lot over the years.

Sabarimala is in the midst of thick jungles.

Last week when I was at the hill shrine, I was a surprised by the lack of foolproof security. There were metal detectors which were as usual beeping, but no one was being checked.

In fact, at no point even a casual frisking of pilgrims was done. I saw sharp shooters of the Rapid Action Force with their finger on the trigger, even right up at the temple, on either sides of the 18-steps. But I doubted what they could do in the case of an unfortunate eventuality.

There is usually a surge in the number of pilgrims from mid-December. There wasn't much rush when we were there.

Donkeys are used to carry loads up the hill. As part of the heightened security, they too are being banned.

Will the foolproof security blanket remain, or is this part of the periodic, predictable ramping up of vigil?

(The Hindu and Malayala Manorama reports on security measures at Sabarimala.)

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My life, your curiosity

EPISODE 1

Last week, many of my colleagues and I got an sms. “Baby boy. Baby and mom fine.”

It was from one of our colleagues and the obvious message was that he had become a father, a second time.

Curiously, the message left a sense disbelief among most of my colleagues. The exclamations ranged from the puzzling, “Baby for whom?” to the ridiculous, “Was his wife pregnant?” to one of distrust, “O, we didn’t know his wife was expecting!”

EPISODE 2

Yesterday, another colleague rejoined after a week’s leave.

“Where were you all these days?” asked one.

“Kerala… ” she replied.

“Went on a holiday?”

“No, I went for my engagement. I got engaged….” she replied.

“Wow… you got engaged? O… ho…  C’mmon… where are the sweets?”

And, after that a comment: “Hey, but you never told us that you were going to Kerala to get engaged?”

PRIVATE AND PUBLIC LIFE

These two incidents left me thinking about our high levels of curiosity about other people’s personal lives.

Sharing personal information and matters among bosom friends is okay. In fact there is an understandable and justifiable level of expectation as well, to know what’s happening to our close friends.

But, normally, do we all have a birthright to be kept informed about everyone’s personal and private matters?

Why do we expect ourselves to be told about such issues?

Matters regarding relationships or pregnancy are personal, aren’t they? With whom such information should be shared, and when, are personal decisions to be taken by people immediately concerned with them, most importantly the couple.

Yet, why this feeling of “being left out” and “not in the know”?

THAT’S THE WAY WE ARE?

I have heard that westerners are more circumspect when it comes to sharing their personal information. And, no one takes offense if something personal is not shared with them. People take privacy issues seriously. They are touchy about it. In fact, they may take offense if too many prying questions are asked.

Here in India, our culture and tradition expect us to be friendly to one another. That also might mean sharing information, even personal. It’s taken as an indication of being “one among us”, besides cordiality and warmth. That’s the way probably life was in our villages and small towns. It was all one large family; where everyone reached out to one another at good and bad times.

But, city life and its modernity are a lot about individuality. If at all there’s a group or a community it’s never too large for the personal identity of each one to be lost. Large apartment complexes are still identified with the culture of seclusion, isolation and even insensitivity to another human being. “One doesn’t know even if there is a murder next door” — that’s the way people speak about life in flats or in residential layouts of big cities.

It’s tough to draw a clear line when it comes to matters of privacy. Nevertheless, be it in villages, small towns or big cities, it’s good and healthy to have close friends to share our personal thoughts and feelings. A certain level of healthy curiosity in our close friends’ lives in fact gives them the feeling of being cared for by some one.

But on the other hand, I guess it’s too much to expect everyone to let us know whom they are going to marry or how they are planning their family lives!

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The debate has started all over again — are blogs a public medium or a private medium where personal thoughts are expressed? — Thanks to the tweet of India’s minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor.

Let’s go back to where it started.

Associate Editor of The Pioneer Kanchan Gupta, in all innocence, tweeted to Tharoor:

@ShashiTharoor Tell us Minister, next time you travel to Kerala, will it be cattle class?
11:57 PM Sep 14th from TweetDeck in reply to ShashiTharoor

And 20 minutes later Tharoor replied:

@KanchanGupta absolutely, in cattle class out of solidarity with all our holy cows!
12:17 AM Sep 15th from web in reply to KanchanGupta

Few would have noticed the twitter banter and among those who would have read it, few would have found anything odd in that. That’s because weblogs (both the macro and the micro varieties) are informal media of communication. There are plenty of jokes cracked and slangs used. That’s quite the norm.

So, why this brouhaha?

We have a controversy here because the informal off-the-cuff remark was in the public domain (visible to all). What is uttered in public (whether it be a personal view or an official view) is open to scrutiny and interpretation. It’s only natural that people react in many ways to what is read and heard in public.

This is very similar to the row that broke out over what Jaswant Singh wrote in his book regarding Jinnah. That was Singh’s personal view but aired in public. BJP took offence and went as far as to throw the veteran politician out of the party.

So, what’s right and what’s wrong

There are clearly two aspects to this and similar issues:

1) Let’s remember and be aware that what’s put up on the web — be it on blogs, websites and media like Twitter, Facebook and Orkut — is in the public domain. It’s immaterial whether what is posted on the web is a personal view or an official view. What’s expressed in the public domain can’t be something private.

The only exception I can see is when these websites are “protected” or “private”; which means, what is put up on the websites can be read only by people who have been allowed by the person who put up contents on the website.

Here it is pertinent to note that Tharoor’s tweets are not protected. Meaning, everyone in the world can see Tharoor’s tweets. Tharoor has no control over who sees his tweets and reacts. Incidentally, Tharoor himself had made it very clear that he wouldn’t tweet anything that he wouldn’t have said in the open as a minister.

Thus, twitter is very much like any other mass media device — newspaper, radio or television. And it’s only natural that whoever reads the tweets may have a comment to make which also — in equal measure —  is in the public domain.

2) The second point is we need not take offence to all that’s seen and heard in the public domain.

We live in an era when there is so much of information on the public domain (a lot of which could be private and personal). We need to understand this new mass media scenario.

Just as many thought that there was no need for the BJP to take offence at what Jaswant Singh had said, there was no need for the Congress to feel bad at what Tharoor said.

One, “cattle class” is a slang for economy class. It’s not Tharoor who used that word first. It was the journalist who used it. Tharoor just replied using the same expression. There was nothing unnatural in the usage.

Two, the use of “our holy cow”. Throor in that friendly banter with Gupta used it possibly alluding to the Gandhi family. I really doubt if the humour would have been lost on the Gandhi family.

The Gandhi family is as much exposed to the use of these slangs in friendly conversations as Tharoor is. Meaning, culturally, there’sn’t so much of gap between Tharoor and Sonia or Rahul.

Congress reaction was unnecessary

If Sonia or Rahul wanted a public chastising of Tharoor, then that was bad. The Congress then wasn’t behaving any different from the BJP who were criticized to be intolerant.

My guess is the party spokesperson was jumping the gun; and acting in a “more loyal than the king” manner; probably also with the good intention of reminding all party workers about the need for discipline.

I am sure, Tharoor, the diplomat that he is, would have spoken to Sonia or let her be known in no uncertain manner that it was just a casual banter with a journalist and no offence was meant. And, Sonia would have just let it pass.

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IT professionals, hotel management executives, entrepreneurs, artistes: they were all there with one purpose of supporting a charity at the Twestival in the city on Saturday. Bangalore was one among the 200-odd cities around the world (including six other Indian cities) where Twitter users gathered this weekend for a cause.

A section of the Twestival audience.

A section of the Twestival audience.

It was an evening of fun and entertainment at Kyra Theatre, Indiranagar. The mind-reading session by Nakul Shenoy took the audience’s breath away as he guessed rightly what’s in the mind of participants who volunteered. There were standup comedy shows by Aron Kader and Papa CJ; a quiz programme, and finally a performance of contemporary Indian folk, with a fusion of rock, Carnatic and jazz by Swarathma. While the programme was on, a giant screen displayed the live tweets on the Twitter festival.

A Twestival participant (right) holds up a folded paper on which she has written the name of a person. Nakul Shenoy later rightly guessed the name.

A Twestival participant (right) holds up a folded paper on which she has written the name of a person. Nakul Shenoy later rightly guessed the name.

Nakul Shenoy gets down from the stage, rightly guesses and writes down a particular word from a page (not seen by him) of a book  given to the woman on the stage. The two men beside her wait for their turn to be mesmerized.

Nakul Shenoy gets down from the stage, rightly guesses and writes down a particular word from a page (not seen by him) of a book given to the woman on the stage. The two men beside her wait for their turn to be mesmerized.

The organizers were upbeat. “At least 140 people are here. There were many who bought tickets but couldn’t make it,” said Vaijayanthi K M, regional coordinator for Twestivals in India, Bangladesh and Middle East. “We haven’t checked exactly how much we got for the charity, but it’s at least Rs 20,000.”

Standup comedian from Los Angeles Aron Kader regales the audience.

Standup comedian from Los Angeles Aron Kader regales the audience.

Bangalore event coordinator Hrish Thota said the event surpassed expectations. “We also showed that twittering is not just a time pass but can be leveraged to achieve noble objectives.” Twestival Bangalore is supporting Dream A Dream, a Jayanagar-based charity that works with NGOs to impart life skills to children.

Says Pooja Rao of Dream A Dream, “We decided to partner with Twestival because this is a global event that will help create awareness about the social work that we do and also about volunteering that is at the core of the movement.”

Performance by Swarathma

Performance by Swarathma

Rakesh Krishnakumar, a software engineer with IBM, is an avid Twitter user. “I use Twitter to know what is happening in the city. It’s an effective medium to communicate with your friends and family. My mother, who is in Delhi, has a Twitter account and follows my tweets to keep in touch with me.”

Mark Doray, a knowledge management professional with Nokia Siemens Networks, thinks Twitter is a powerful information dissemination tool. “I follow experts who tweet about my subject and it helps me a lot in my profession. Twitter is most effective when we identify the right people who tweet and follow them.”

While the programme was on, a giant screen in the background, displayed live tweets on the Twestival.

While the programme was on, a giant screen in the background, displayed live tweets on the Twestival.

But not all participants at Twestival use Twitter. Ravi Kumar, an engineer with IBM, had come on the suggestion of a friend. “Neither do I use Twitter nor am I a fan of the band that’s performing, but I thought this was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday evening – for a charity,” he said.

Sujit Krishnan, a hotel management executive, was another. “I’ve just heard about Twitter, that’s all. It’s amazing how online guys can get offline and pull off something like this!”

(This article appeared in The Times of India, Bangalore, on September 13, 2009)

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With a view to raising money for charity, Twitter users in Bangalore will get together on Saturday evening at Indirangar for Twestival, or Twitter Festival.

Bangalore is one among 200 cities around the world that will host the event that day. The other Indian cities taking part are Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Pune.

The Bangalore event will support an NGO, Jayanagar-based Dream A Dream. Founded in 1999, the charity organisation helps disadvantaged and vulnerable children with skill sets so that they can build their lives. Tweet, meet and give: that’s the slogan for Twestival.

“We are doing a rock show by Indian rock band ‘Swarathma’ at Kyra Theatre in Indiranagar,” said Bangalore event coordinator Hrish Thota. “The event will be ticketed at a reasonable price and we are getting a prominent cut out of it that we will donate to the charity. We will have presentations from the charity on their work,” he said.

“As much as we find progress and development in today’s world, we find there are a million children for whom, the simple dream of having a full stomach and a decent education still remains a dream. It is this reality that has motivated us to come together and work for our dream: a dream to fulfill the dreams of many underprivileged young kids from Dream A Dream,” say organisers.

Twestival will unveil an evening of music and fun but with a cause to live it up. “If you think having fun is all you could do, you can now have fun and also contribute to help a child live his or her dream,” says the Twestival promo.

Twestival takes place twice a year __ once for a global cause in February and for a local cause in September, both held worldwide. Bangalore took part in the February event as well, but it was a hurried affair. Says Thota, “It was organized in a short span of 1 week and so we clubbed it with a quiz competition. We sold merchandise like T-shirts and postcards; sponsored by the sponsors.”

Twestival is a completely volunteer driven activity – anyone anywhere in the world can nominate to conduct a Twestival in their location. “Based on a due diligence conducted by global and regional coordinators, organizers and cities are officially approved as Twestival locations,” says Vaijayanthi K M, Regional coordinator for Twestivals in India, Bangladesh and Middle East.

“Twestival Local, like the one that is happening on Saturday, is a great opportunity to connect with people in the community. The aim is to give people a chance to feel they are contributing to a larger social initiative, but bring the cause a little closer to home,” she says.

How Twestival originated

If many people can network online, why not a few of them offline? So thought a few Twitter users in London; and they decided to get together at Trafalgar Square in September last year; “tweeting up with a social conscience” as they called it. The idea was to collect donations and canned food for a local non-profit called The Connections which supports a programme for the homeless.

Initially, not more than 30-40 people were expected for the gathering, but after the message got amplified across Twitter, there was a crowd of 250 and a waiting list of more who couldn’t make it. It was called Harvest Twestival, after the arts and crafts show Harvest Festival in the US.

The impromptu gathering demonstrated the offline power of online networking. And this led to the Twestival Global that took place on February 12 in 202 cities including Bangalore, for providing drinking water to the poor.

Over USD 250,000 was raised on that single day which resulted in 55 water projects that helped 17,000 people in three countries: Uganda, Ethiopia and India (in Orissa). For the Orissa segment, USD 83,000 was collected for seven water tanks that would supply piped water to 2,079 people.

Mashable, the social media guide says, “India was one of the most enthusiastic countries with a handful of cities wanting to host – so it is particularly satisfying to know that Twestival will be able to fund sustainable projects there.”

Website:
http://bangalore.twestival.com

(This article has appeared in The Times of India, Bangalore, today.)

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Recession and Underwear

The feel-good news that Indian economy has turned the corner with the GDP growing at 6.1% in the last quarter has been prominently featured in newspapers today. But this piece of information is Greek to the layperson who still has no respite from the rising prices of essential articles.

Has the economy really turned around? How does one measure this? Is there anything more simple than the GDP figures?

This takes me to Alan Greenspan, who served as the chairman of the American Federal Reserve. Everyone used to marvel at the accuracy of his predictions about the economy.

Some two years ago in an interview to the NPR he said the one of the surefire methods of judging the state of economy is by looking at the men’s underwear drawer.  Greenspan’s reasoning is simple: because hardly anyone actually sees a guy’s undies, they’re the first thing men stop buying when the economy tightens! During recession there is a drop in the sales of men’s underwear. It’s called the MUI, Men’s Underwear Index.

We are all waiting for clear signals that the economy is looking up; and now you know where to look for.

Forget the GDP figures. Will India’s underwear manufacturers please tell us if the sales have picked up or not?

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Identity is one big issue.

When a good old friend fails to recognize you, you feel hurt. You even begin to wonder: was the friendship worth all that?

Most of the political conflicts between states and nations are somewhere liked to identity.

The current uproar over US customs personnel asking SRK to step aside for a “secondary inspection” is also linked to identity. Why should India’s number one actor be so intensely and intrusively questioned on his entry to the US?

Shah Rukh Khan, known as the "King of Bollywood", was held for two hours at an airport outside New York. The actor has lashed out at airport officials over the episode. (AFP/File/Gianluigi Guercia - For source of photo click on it)

Shah Rukh Khan, known as the "King of Bollywood", was held for two hours at an airport outside New York. The actor has lashed out at airport officials over the episode. (AFP/File/Gianluigi Guercia - For source of photo click on it)

This hue and cry over Shah Rukh Khan’s so called detention is unjustified, I feel. It smacks of a lack of understanding of the way the US works and also of our glorified self-importance. There is nothing unusual about being moved aside for a “second inspection”. It’s done, when credentials of the entrant is not fully clear in the first instance and more details are sought. Such people are moved aside to another area, so that others waiting in the queue aren’t unnecessarily delayed.

It’s too much to expect an ordinary US customs officer to know who Shah Rukh Khan is, when many US citizens aren’t quite aware of what’s happening in their own country. (I recently happened to meet a professor of computer science from a US university, who was visiting India. We were discussing H1N1 infections. Quite surprisingly he wasn’t aware that all the US states had been affected, and close to 550 people had died in the US due to H1N1 virus!)

Generally in the US, processes are system-driven, unlike in India where they are largely person-driven. There could have been some point in SRK’s documentation that needed more clarification. When he had done nothing wrong, where was the need to panic? All Shah Rukh should have done was to sit back and let the process sort itself out. When US congressmen, senators, nobel laureates and other locally important people are similarly moved aside for further questioning, how can one expect an exceptional treatment for Indians.

I appreciate former President Abdul Kalam’s attitude to this. He complied with the security protocol of Continental Airlines, while he was frisked before boarding a flight to Newark in April this year. He didn’t have any complaints at all, and fully understood the procedure. Three months later, it was all others who seemed to have an issue with it.

When Indians prominent in India get stuck in such manner in foreign countries it becomes news. I am sure many ordinary citizens too have to undergo such experiences that no one gets to know.

My experience

Probably such things happen in other countries as well in various degrees. A few years back when I was on an official trip to Malaysia, at the KL customs clearance, the official was quite puzzled at what he thought was the low amount of cash I carried. (I don’t remember exactly the figure.) He became suspicious.

The official asked me how I could spend seven days in Malaysia with that low amount of cash. I told I was on an invitation from the Tourism Board of Malaysia, it was an official, sponsored trip, and that I had an international credit card (which I promptly showed) for my personal purchases. He wasn’t convinced.

He asked me to go to a room nearby and wait. I complied. In the room, I got a feeling that I was being suspected of illegal entry into the country. Since even after waiting for 15 minutes no one called me, I approached an officer and narrated what had happened. I explained the purpose of my visit. He took my passport. I produced documentary evidence for all the claims I made, like invitation card, return ticket, office identity card, details of stay and transportation.

After some 20 minutes, the officer profusely apologized and explained why some people in flights from south India are more intensely scrutinized. I told him I fully understood his concerns. Exchange of a few pleasantries, and that was about it.

Scene in India

Let us accept: many of us have a distorted blown-up image about ourselves. That has become a part of our way of life: what is commonly called ‘VIP culture’. A very good manifestation of that self-importance is on our roads.

Why crib about what’s happening abroad, when what happens in our own country leaves a lot to be desired. A number of us take offence when security guards ask for identity card or ask intrusive questions like “whom do you want to meet?”

So many times I have seen people fighting with security guards over such issues. And many upright officials have paid the price for playing by the rule in India. Probably, the only fault I find in such personnel is that some of them aren’t as polite as they ought to be. Look at the way we behave on the roads, the sort of respect we give for other drivers and for traffic laws.

Discussion on my Twitter page (may be updated):

Me: If SRK refuses to travel to the US in future, will the US be bothered? Will the US lose anything bec of that?

ullasd: It is question of self pride.

rajimuth: Do they care about anything/anyone outside their know? They don’t need us, we do them

ullasd: I was only referring to the arrogance of US officials. Take the case of APJ…

Me: I dont know if we can call it ‘arrogance’ or ‘over-enthusiasm of a customs official to play by rules”. Maybe partly both..!!!

rajimuth: We are going nuts! SRK maybe a film icon, Indians, more fool us, may worship him,cant expect him to be treated like god in other countries.

rajimuth: SRK should take a lesson in grace and dignity from Kalam’s behaviour. He has been spoilt by needless adulation from fans

Some facts about US customs procedure

Here is an extract from The Times of India‘s Washington correspondent Chidanand Rajghatta’s despatch on the issue. Towards the end of the story he gives details of the customs procedure in the US. Very informative. Read the article here.

Inspection at a US Port of Entry: What to expect/What do CBP (Customs and Border Patrol) officials do?

  • Upon arrival at the POE you must present your passport and other required documents. CBP officers will review these to determine whether to allow you to enter the US.
  • Your first encounter with CBP officers will be at a primary inspection station where they ask foreign nationals questions to determine their identity and nationality.
  • If they decide to admit you the CBP officer will also determine how long you will be allowed to stay in the US, and in what status you will be admitted.
  • CBP officers review passports, visas, and other supporting documents of each and every foreign national arriving at a US POE. The CBP officers also compare fingerprint records and name check databases for recent derogatory information, ask questions about the foreign nationals general qualifications for the visas they have, review the Form I-94 Arrival and Departure Record (or, for Visa Waiver travelers, Form I-94W).

What Kind of questions do the CBP officers ask?

CBP officers at US POEs will ask you questions to determine the true intent of your trip to the US. Inspections Officers are trained, and have the experience to back up their training, to identify if a foreign national has a pre-conceived intent behind their trip to the US, i.e., they are looking to see if you are actually coming to go to school or for a job interview when you say you are coming to visit Disneyland. If an officer is not convinced with your initial statements, they may ask for additional supporting documentation be allowing you to enter the US.

CBP officials – their power and authority – what they can do?

CBP officers have complete power and authority at the POE. It is up to their discretion to conclude whether or not a foreign national is eligible to enter the US. It is only after a CBP officer stamps and dates the I-94 form, places an admission stamp in the foreign national’s passport, and the foreign national passes through the inspection station that the foreign national is admitted to the United States.

Secondary Inspection – what leads you to a secondary inspection?

If the first CBP officer that a foreign national meets feels that the inspection requires additional time for review to determine a foreign national’s eligibility, the officer may refer the foreign national for a “secondary inspection.” This secondary inspection is a much more comprehensive review, and can take several hours to complete. Generally a foreign national referred for secondary inspection is not considered to be “admitted” to the United States.

What generally happens in a secondary inspection?

In secondary inspection, CBP officers will ask a foreign national more detailed questions about their travel plans for the US. Foreign nationals may even be asked to produce additional identification and other documentation in order to determine their actual identity and purpose of their visit to the United States. The foreign national and their belongings may also be searched, and the foreign national may be required to give a full set of fingerprints.

Any person, foreign national or person with a claim to US citizenship and presenting a US passport, may be sent to secondary inspection if the CBP officer has reservations about admitting him to the United States. A person may also be sent to secondary inspection if there is a possibility the person is smuggling contraband or violating any other customs or immigration regulations, or federal law in general.

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EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT H1N1 (SWINE) FLU

The spread of swine flu is fast emerging as No 1 healthcare emergency not just in the country but the world over. Despite the issue being in the media for a long time, there continue to be ignorance and misinformation about the disease and how to handle it.

Indian Medical Association, Nagpur Centre, has come up with an information dossier on the subject. Here it is (source):

What is H1N1 (swine) flu?

H1N1 (referred to as “swine flu” early on) is a new influenza virus causing illness in people. This new virus was first detected in people in the United States in April 2009. Other countries, including Mexico and Canada, have also reported people sick with this new virus. This virus is spreading from person-to-person, probably in much the same way that regular seasonal influenza viruses spread.

In late March and early April 2009, cases of human infection with swine influenza A (H1N1) viruses were first reported in Southern California and near San Antonio, Texas.

In the beginning it was difficult to predict the effect of this virus on general population. In seasonal flu, there are certain people who are at higher risk of serious flu-related complications. This includes people with 65 years of more age, children below five years, pregnant women, and people of any age with chronic medical conditions.

This virus is contagious but, at this time, it not known how easily the virus spreads between people. The symptoms of H1N1 swine flu in people are similar to the symptoms of regular human flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people have reported diarrhoea and vomiting associated with H1N1 swine flu. Severe illness (pneumonia and respiratory failure) and even deaths have been reported with H1N1 swine flu infection. Like seasonal flu, H1N1 swine flu may cause a worsening of underlying chronic diseases.

IN CHILDREN, EMERGENCY WARNING SIGNS

* Fast breathing or difficulty in breathing
* Bluish or gray skin colour
* Not drinking enough fluids
* Severe or persistent vomiting
* Not waking up or not interacting
* Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
* Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
 
IN ADULTS, EMERGENCY WARNING SIGNS

* Difficulty in breathing or shortness of breath
* Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
* Sudden dizziness
* Confusion
* Severe or persistent vomiting
* Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough

HOW DO YOU CATCH H1N1 (SWINE) FLU? 

Spread of H1N1 (swine) flu can occur in two ways:

H1N1 virus appears to be transmitted the same way that seasonal flu spreads. Flu viruses are spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing by people with influenza. Sometimes people may become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose.
 
How can someone with the flu infect someone else?
 
Infected people can infect others right from day one even before they themselves develop any symptoms up to seven or more days after becoming sick. That means that one can pass on the infection to someone else before he/she even knows that he/she is sick, as well as while one is sick.
 
What can I do to protect myself from getting sick?
 
There is no vaccine available right now to protect against H1N1 (swine) flu. There are everyday actions that can help prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses like influenza.

TAKE THESE EVERYDAY STEPS TO PROTECT YOUR HEALTH:

* Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.

* Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.

* Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
 
* Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
 
* If you get sick with influenza, you should stay at home and not go for work or school and limit contact with others to prevent them from getting infecting by you.
 
* Reduce the time spent in the crowded settings.
 
* Improve airflow in the living space by opening the windows and proper ventilation.
 
* Practice good health habits including adequate sleep, eating nutritious food, and keeping physically active.
 
HOW LONG CAN INFLUENZA VIRUS REMAIN VIABLE ON OBJECTS (SUCH AS BOOKS AND DOORKNOBS)?
 
Studies have shown that influenza virus can survive on environmental surfaces and can infect a person for up to 2-8 hours after being deposited on the surface.
 
Germs can be spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth. Droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person move through the air. Germs can be spread when a person touches respiratory droplets from another person on a surface like a desk, for example, and then touches his own eyes, mouth or nose before washing hands.
 
ARE THERE MEDICINES TO TREAT H1N1 (SWINE) FLU?
 
Yes, use of oseltamivir (brand name Tamiflu?) or zanamivir (brand name Relenza ?) for the treatment and/or prevention of infection with these H1N1 (swine) influenza viruses. Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines (pills, liquid or an inhaler) that fight against the flu by keeping flu viruses from reproducing in your body. If you get sick, antiviral drugs can make your illness milder and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious flu complications. For treatment, antiviral drugs work best if started soon after getting sick (within two days of symptoms).
 
Follow the advice of your local public health department regarding school closures, avoiding crowds and other measures to reduce flu transmission. These measures will continue to be important after a novel H1N1 vaccine is available because they can prevent the spread of other viruses that cause respiratory infections.
 
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I GET SICK?
 
If you live in areas where people have been identified with new H1N1 flu and become ill with influenza-like symptoms, including fever, body aches, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, nausea, or vomiting or diarrhoea, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people, except to seek medical care. If you have severe illness or you are at high risk for flu complications, contact your health care provider or seek medical care. Your health care provider will determine whether flu testing or treatment is needed.
 
Antiviral drugs may reduce the symptoms and duration of illness, just as they do for seasonal influenza. They also may contribute to preventing severe disease and death. WHO is in touch with public health authorities and clinicians in affected countries and is gathering information about how effective the drugs are.
 
WHAT ABOUT USING A MASK? WHAT DOES WHO RECOMMEND?
 
If you are not sick you do not have to wear a mask. If you are caring for a sick person, you can wear a mask when you are in close contact with the ill person and dispose of it immediately after contact, and clean your hands thoroughly afterwards.
 
If you are sick and have to travel or be around others, cover your mouth and nose.
 
Using a mask correctly in all situations is essential. Incorrect use actually increases the chance of spreading infection.
 
HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE INFLUENZA A (H1N1)?
 
You will not be able to tell the difference between seasonal flu and influenza A (H1N1) without medical help. Typical symptoms to watch for are similar to seasonal viruses and include fever, cough, headache, body aches, sore throat and runny nose. Only your medical practitioner and local health authority can confirm a case of influenza A (H1N1). If they suspect any symptoms they will send your blood sample, throat swab and nasopharyngeal (nose to mouth) for testing to laboratories. Presently this facility is available only at certain specified government laboratories.

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Yesterday morning, I was still in bed, when my teenage son, who had a few moments before left for college, rushed back screaming Michael Jackson is dead. “Michael Jackson can’t die,” he kept saying. My son has eversince been either humming MJ’s tunes or playing them on the mobile. 

It was difficult to believe the news though we all knew Jackson was not in the pink of his health. Whatever be one’s views about Jacko, not in the recent past has anyone caught the imagination of the entire world, cutting across all strata, like MJ did. Essentially what was in him that got a such a huge number of people around the world adore him will a remain a mystery, like the way died.   

Excerpts from some articles:

“… Like Orpheus, Jackson was destroyed by his fans, whose adulation and adoration prevented his living in any kind of normal society. The creativity ebbed away day by day. He became a parody of himself. It is time now to forget all that and salute the miraculous boy who will triumph over death as Dionysos did, becoming immortal through his art…”  Germaine Greer

“… If ever there was an illustration of the adage that celebrity destroys what it touches, Jackson was it. Highly sensitive and impressionable, he was unsuited to fame – ironic, given that his became one of the most recognised faces in the world. Despite loving the razzle-dazzle of performance – even his off-duty wardrobe, with its epauletted jackets, looked like stagewear – he was crushed by the pressure of maintaining a cherubic public persona. He probably would have been happiest working behind the scenes, in the mode of his collaborator and mentor, Quincy Jones, producer of the 50m-selling Thriller…”  Guardian obituary

“… Such were his legal fees and the lavish lifestyle he developed that even the hundreds of millions that allowed him to outbid Paul McCartney for the Beatles’ back catalogue proved insufficient. He all but lost his Neverland ranch, and withdrew – frequently hiding behind a mask on the occasions when he did appear in public, a shield against fame which only made him more newsworthy…”  Guardian editorial

“… Michael Jackson came to be synonymous with transformation — ultimately, with an eerie stasis that comes from seeking transformation all the time. The alchemy of change worked longer and better for him — through the ’80s and into the early ’90s — than it has for almost any other artist. And yet somehow all the changes always take us back to the album in which Michael Jackson grew up…” New York Times editorial

“… This compromise with reality gradually became unsustainable. He went to strange lengths to preserve it. Unbounded privilege became another toxic force in his undoing. What began as idiosyncrasy, shyness, and vulnerability was ravaged by obsessions over health, paranoia over security, and an isolation that grew more and more unhealthy…” Deepak Chopra’s tribute in The Huffington Post

“… For more than an hour, TMZ was essentially the only outlet claiming that Mr. Jackson was dead. Television and newspaper journalists read the TMZ report but largely held off on repeating it, for fear of making a mistake. Still, the bulletin traversed the Web with remarkable speed, creating a stark divide: on the Internet Mr. Jackson was dead, and on TV he was still alive…” New York Times

“… In the 50 years that Michael Jackson lived, the rules of journalism have gone from wait-and-see to show-and-wait. Journalism was once grandly said to be the first draft of history. We’ve now moved to a world in which gossip is the first draft of journalism…” Mark Lawson in The Guardian

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